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News Roundup: Vermonters 65 And Older Can Sign Up For Vaccine Appointments Monday

A teal sign showing a black labrador retriever wearing a mask is posted at the entrace to a white chapel, the Dog Chapel, at the St. Johnsbury home of late artist Stephen Huneck.
Matthew Smith
A sign outside of the gallery at Dog Mountain located near the St. Johnsbury home of late artist Stephen Huneck, reminds visitors to wear a mask upon entry. His artwork is featured inside.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, Town Meeting Day and more for Friday, Feb 26.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont reports 121 new COVID-19 cases, 1 new death

Vermont health officials reported 121 new COVID-19 cases Friday and one additional death, bringing the pandemic total to 204.

Chittenden County had 39 of the new infections, while Bennington County had two dozen.

The number of people hospitalized dipped to 24, 10 of whom are in the ICU.

Nearly 18% of Vermont's adult population has now gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Vermonters 65 and older can register for vaccine appointments with the state Monday

Vermonters 65 and older can sign up for their COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Monday.

Walgreens began offering shots to people in that age band Thursday, but Gov. Phil Scott says the state-run clinics will begin registering people next week.

“Everyone in this age band will be able to sign up for the state-run clinics beginning on Monday morning, I believe it’s at 8:15”

Walgreens received an extra 4,300 doses through the federal Retail Pharmacy Program, and Scott said the state allowed them to begin the 65-and-older group early.

The state-run clinics have vaccinated more than 95,000 people so far.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Newport prison goes into full lockdown, following positive COVID-19 tests

The Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport is in full lockdown after testing earlier this week turned up a COVID-19 outbreak.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the state is doing contact tracing to try to figure out how the virus got into the prison.

“So we know who has COVID at this point. We know that it’s one staff person, and 21 incarcerated individuals,” Smith said. “We’ll continue to test to make sure that we have a handle on that."

The outbreak in Newport is the largest at an in-state prison since about 50 inmates and staff members contracted the coronavirus at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton in April.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Starting March 1, all UVM students will be tested twice per week

The University of Vermont is doubling its weekly COVID-19 testing as it tries to preserve in-person classes amid a surge in student infections.

UVM Vice President for Operations and Public Safety Gary Derr announced the changes Thursday.

Starting March 1, all students will be required to get two COVID-19 tests per week. The extra testing will be required through March 13, but UVM says required extra testing could go on for longer if needed.

The college says it's also increasing penalties for coronavirus policy violations. Except for a first missed test, all violations will now be reviewed for suspension.

The latest UVM data shows 62 students and 2 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week.

- Matthew Smith

Quebec officials to explore 'digital vaccination passports'

Quebec's provincial government says it’s considering using "digital vaccination passports" to give people inoculated against COVID-19 easier access to events, restaurants or travel in the future.

The Montreal Gazette reports Quebec's health and social services minister announced Thursday that public health and technology experts were given the green light to explore the idea.

In the past, citizens could get an email to prove vaccination against the H1N1 virus during the 2009 swine flu crisis.

Quebec saw more than 850 new COVID infections and 16 deaths Thursday. Hospitalizations continue to drop across the province.

- Matthew Smith

2. Local officials watch Town Meeting Day participation

Local town officials will be watching to see if voter participation increases on Town Meeting Day.

That's because so many communities are encouraging individuals to vote by mail due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of towns have sent ballots out to all registered voters and many others have mailed postcards to encourage people to request an early ballot.

Karen Horn is the director of Public Policy at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

“This year where people are all at home, we may see a whole lot more participation via the Australian ballot or we may not. It's really … not predictable this year,” Horn said.

Most of the towns that traditionally hold a Town Meeting, will be deciding local issues by Australian ballot this year.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

3. In Rutland, an incumbent mayor faces a record six challengers

Rutland mayor David Allaire hopes to secure a third term during next week’s town meeting elections. A record six challengers – including a mother and son – hope to unseat him.

Two long-time members of the city’s board of aldermen are among the challengers.

There are also a retired nurse, the grandson of a previous city mayor and a mother and son who are also both running for city treasurer and city assessor.

It’s unusual to have so many candidates trying to unseat an incumbent.

Former mayor Jeffrey Wennberg believes it’s indicative of the economic uncertainty in the city.

"Because there's a level of angst or anxiety in the public, because of 2020 as much as anything else, there's a receptive audience out there, I think, for the notion that maybe things aren't on the right track,” Wennberg said.

Also of note, because of the pandemic, those seeking to be mayor didn’t have to get the requisite 35 signatures, making it easier to enter the race.

- Nina Keck

Seven candidates vie for Rutland City school board seats

The decision to change Rutland High’s school mascot name from the Raiders to the Ravens -- and the underlying allegations of racism and insensitivity it stirred up – is reverberating in the race for city school board.

Several candidates are using the old raider logo – an arrowhead – on their campaign material.

Rutland City Clerk Henry Heck says what’s normally a sleepy race is anything but this year.

"So, yeah, there's no question in my mind that that mascot issue thing has left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths … I don't think it's going away,” Heck said.

Seven candidates are running for three seats on Rutland's board of school commissioners – the race will be decided next Tuesday.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: The Rocky Road Away From ‘The Raiders’: Controversy Over Rutland High School Mascot


4. In Burlington, Mayor Miro Weinberger faces Progressive, Independent challengers

On Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters will decide whether to give Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger a fourth term in office.

Weinberger faces challenges from two sitting members of the City Council.

Challenging Mayor Weinberger is Progressive city councilor Max Tracy, and he has consistently been one of the most vocal critics of Mayor Weinberger.

One particular issue he points to is the redevelopment of the downtown mall which, despite years of promises from the developers, has not been constructed. Weinberger has been a proponent of that project.

Also running is Independent city councilor Ali Dieng. Dieng was first elected in 2017. His pitch has been more of a non-partisan pitch. He’s saying he would be more a compromising figure and work to bridge the divides that have been cropping up in the city.

Four other independents are also on the ballot: Haik Bedrosian, Will Emmons, Kevin McGrath and Patrick White.

Read or listen to the full story

- Liam Elder-Connors

5. Vt. House advances $79 million COVID-19 relief bill

The Vermont House has advanced a $79 million COVID-19 relief bill aimed at helping businesses and people harmed by the pandemic.

Montpelier Democrat Mary Hooper chairs the House Appropriations Committee. She said a major focus of the bill is to help those that earlier federal relief programs failed to reach.

“The bill delivers assistance to people and businesses suffering from the pandemic,” Hooper said. “Section one provides gap economic recovery grants to businesses which have experienced an economic loss that have not received federal assistance.”

Other sections provide aid to low-income families and boost spending on housing programs.

The spending package uses about $30 million in federal funds, with the rest coming from the state general fund. Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he supports the measure.

- John Dillon

6. Owner of Slate Ridge shooting range runs for Pawlet select board

The owner of a controversial shooting range that has upset neighbors in the town of Pawlet is running for select board.

Daniel Banyai is currently defending himself against a lawsuit filed by the town, which says he flouted state and local laws when he built the Slate Ridge weapons training facility in 2017.

Now Banyai wants to become a town official himself, and is one of seven candidates running for select board. One of the other candidates is a neighbor, whose wife recently won a stalking order against Banyai.

Neighbors and town officials say Banyai has threatened anyone who’s spoken out against him or Slate Ridge, which has attracted militia members to the town.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Despite Act 250 Complaints, ‘No One Is Actively Investigating’ Slate Ridge Shooting Range

7. Montpelier to vote on extending automatic mailed ballot system for future elections

Montpelier officials say they hope to incorporate a vote by mail system for all future elections.

For Town Meeting Day, the city has sent out ballots to all registered voters in a process similar to the one used last year for the November general election.

City Clerk John Odum says the automatic ballot system has been popular in Montpelier, and it's likely to become a permanent part of the election process in the capital city.

“And the community sure has seemed to be behind it so I'd go out there and pretty comfortably say that it's really a community priority too, so, yeah, I think this is the way we're going to do it,” Odum said.

Odum said he's pleased Montpelier has experienced very few problems with the automatic ballot approach.

- Bob Kinzel

Listen to the full conversation.

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